I Spent a Night Hunting for Ghosts. All I Found Were the Ruins of Suharto's New Order Regime
All photos by Rizky Rahadianto


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Ghost Hunting

I Spent a Night Hunting for Ghosts. All I Found Were the Ruins of Suharto's New Order Regime

Indonesia is full of ghosts. But not all of them are the spirits of the deceased.

"Pocong one, come in? Pocong one?" Yogi said.

"Over," said Donny. "We just finished with the first floor."

"Over. Carry on!"

"Over and out."

We were in Bogor, West Java, a suburban city outside Jakarta, to explore a big house in a neighborhood that seemed to be abandoned. Word on the street was that the house was the site of a grisly murder. A woman was once found dead in a bathtub on the home's second floor. It was as good a location as any to find a ghost.


I walked into the second-floor bathroom with Rizky, a photographer from VICE Indonesia, and Donny—a man who has spent every weekend for the past year trying to photograph the supernatural with the rest of the Ghost Photography Club.

Belief in the supernatural is common in Indonesia. The country's folklore is full of ghosts, ghouls, and creatures that go bump in the night—terrifying apparitions like the pocong, a spirit in an Islamic death shroud; the sundel bolong, a long-haired woman who wanders the earth with a hole in her back; and the tuyul, a creepy little child spirit that steals your money. It's basically the cast of the Grudge, but Indonesian and, you know, in real life.

Growing up, I heard all about demons, spirits and ghosts. People really believe in this stuff. But even today, when nearly everyone has a smartphone with a high-quality camera right in their pocket, there is little evidence that any of these things actually exist. That's why Rizky and I were out with Donny and the Ghost Photography Club. If these apparitions are real, then surely someone in Donny's crew would have a photo of one, right?

It's questions like this that leave you standing in a creepy bathroom in the suburbs waiting for the ghost of some woman allegedly murdered more than a decade ago to appear. Life sometimes takes some strange turns.

The bathroom. All photos by Rizky Rahadianto

Donny told us to be silent. We turned off all the lights and stood there as he tried to feel the energy of the room. "Their appearance really depends on what we have in mind," Donny explained. "If you're thinking of a female creature, then it will be that. If you're thinking of pocong, you'll get that as well."


I thought of a dead woman. The bathroom was pitch black.  I couldn't make-out the edges of bathtub or see the filthy tile floors. I didn't dare look at the mirror on the wall. We waited for 10 minutes. Nothing happened. Donny said he was used to it.

"Even when the camera doesn't catch a ghost, there are times when one of us could see it," Donny said as he fiddled with his camera. "We can't always see them, but we can feel them. Sometimes they even play tricks on us."

We walked back outside. The house looked pretty similar to every other one in the complex. Some of the homes had lights on. Others were dark. There were sporadic "For Sale" signs, but the homes looked like they had been on the market for a long time.

The entire complex was once owned by the family of former president Gen. Suharto, according to the locals we met. When his New Order regime collapsed in the aftermath of the Asian Financial Crisis, the complex fell on hard times. Today, it's abandoned. There are stories like this all over Indonesia. Suharto, who ruled Indonesia for 32 years, was tremendously corrupt. All of that money had to go somewhere. Some of it went into property development, and many of those projects, like the "Ghost Palace" in Bali, were left to rot as the regime collapsed.

These abandoned spots, each of them ghosts of a dead regime, are now commonly shrouded in mystery and the site of spooky stories of hauntings.


"This house has been here since the 80s," said Dendy, a member of the neighborhood watch. "The complex belongs to the Cendana family's group."

That's not a ghost. It's me.

I wandered off with Rizky to take a nap. There were no ghosts to be seen and it was 1:30 a.m. on a Sunday—late enough to be tired. A few members of the neighborhood watch came with us. Dendy, the head of the neighborhood unit and a member of the neighborhood watch, began to tell me about the old days, back when the complex was under heavy guard and everyone was afraid of wandering too close to the gates. The complex was rumored to be protected by Kopassus—Indonesia's feared special forces.

"Back in the day, this was a neighborhood for the elites," Dendy said. "Not everyone could come in here. Even the kampung residents were too scared to even cross the entrance. The security was super tough back then. People with no business being here wouldn't dare come close."

I woke up and walked with Rizky and some ghost hunters to check out another house. The moon was full and bright, despite a chance of rain. It was eerily quiet. In the distance, I could hear the faint sounds of some reciting the Quran through a mosque loudspeaker and some dangdut music creeping out into the night air.

The cameras, said Yogi, the club's leader, were so they could capture evidence of something invisible to the naked eye.

"Camera lenses are more sensitive than our eyes," he said. "With infrared and ultraviolet, they can capture light that is invisible to our bare eyes."


Another house. Still no ghosts.

We walked up to a smaller, one-story house surrounded by thick bushes. The front door was locked, but there was a hole through a wall around back. We went inside. I didn't feel anything.

Suddenly, the ghost-hunting team was a buzz with energy.

"Get out! Get out now!" one of them said. "I thought you brought your walkie talkies. Why didn't you bring them?"

We had left the walkie talkies back in the "safe zone." The club used them to check-in on each other throughout the night. Well, apparently, they tried to reach us, and someone answered back. But it obviously wasn't us.

"I said on the walkie talkie 'pocong one,' and someone said 'over,'" he said while walking really fast. "I thought it was one of you. It had to be one of you. But you left your walkie talkies in the safe zone."

I felt like this was supposed to be a crucial moment in the night. But I didn't feel anything. The ghost-hunters said none of them were scared.

On the hunt for ghosts.

"We don't always get to see the ghosts," said Yogi. "We can't force them to show themselves."

We went into four different houses in four different blocs. In the third house, Yogi said he once heard a female ghost laughing. The fourth house was allegedly built on a cemetery and was surrounded by a gutter where people would dump bodies back in the day. (Although, you have to wonder why a complex for the elite would have a body-dumping gutter or a house built of a graveyard.) None of us felt anything.

I thought back to a photoshoot we did with Aryo Handindyojati, a pawang hujan, or rain shaman, I met for another story. He told us that everything starts in the mind. "If you think that way, subliminally you transfer all your negative energy to it. Nature absorbs energy very well. That's how an average house can turn into a haunted one—because people released their anger into the houses and that anger was absorbed."

I looked at Rizky. Neither of us felt anything. It made me think. Either the ghosts were scared of us, or we were both too spiritually numb to feel them. Either way, I guess, was fine with me.